Hearing from Coach Mike Tomlin

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On slow whistles, great QB-RB tandems, scouting coaches

Throughout the 2009 NFL season, Coach Mike Tomlin will provide his insight and observations to Steelers.com on a variety of topics pertaining to the team and the National Football League.

Q. Do you believe the NFL issued a slow-whistle memo to their officials?

A. I'm sure of it. That's something that was a point of emphasis so that some of the forgettable plays disappear. I think they're going to let plays play out, hold their whistles, and that will allow people to potentially challenge plays on the field. Ultimately it's done so they can get the play right. I think that's why it's being officiated the way that it is.

Q. A few weeks ago, Joshua Cribbs returned a kickoff for a touchdown against the Steelers, his third against the team since 2007. Was it more Joshua, or were their breakdowns in your coverage?

A. It's always him. And by that, I mean: you have errors in coverage – in kickoff coverage or in punt coverage – all the time. The great ones are capable of exposing the errors. We had an error on the play – one gentleman was out of his lane and another guy got tripped up by that, and when you face a guy like Joshua Cribbs there is a chance it could go to the house. When you're facing normal return men, it gets to the 30-yard line. That's what makes him who he is.

Q. You said that when an opponent has a great running back and a great quarterback, that if you try to stop one or the other you're ultimately going to lose. But isn't a decision like putting eight defenders in the box, or not doing that, making such a decision?

A. You have to go in with a two-pronged approach, and situationally you have to be focused on limiting one or the other, and it's based on tendencies. What I mean is, Adrian Peterson is the centerpiece of the Minnesota offense in certain circumstances and Brett Favre is the centerpiece of their offense in other circumstances. You have to do a good job of anticipating those circumstances based on what you see on tape leading up to the game, but also what's going on within the game. I think you can do both, and how you do both is having an understanding of who the centerpiece of their offense is at different parts of the football game.

Q. Historically, there have been a lot of these quarterback-running back combinations: John Elway and Terrell Davis, Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman, Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. Who is harder to stop, the quarterback or the running back?

A. I think it takes more of a commitment to stopping the freakish runner, and it starts there. Historically, that's how this game has been played, and I think that's a timeless element of this game – that a quality run game and runner cannot only beat you but demoralize you. That's what a great running back is capable of doing, not only winning the game but also winning the war of attrition against people.

Q. When it comes down to knowing the tendencies of when the quarterback and the running back are to be the respective centerpieces of the offense, are you also preparing for the opposing coaches as much as the opposing players?

A. Certainly. You prepare for the play-caller, because their personality changes based on location on the field, time left in the game, what's his mentality after sudden-change – is he going to put the ball in the quarterback's hands and get aggressive or is he going to slow it down and put the ball in the running back's hands. What is he going to do coming out of the locker room to start the second half? What is he going to do in the high red zone? By nature we all develop tendencies, which is our comfort zone, in certain circumstances within football games. We have to anticipate how they're going to call a game, so we can minimize what they're capable of doing by focusing in on either the run or the pass at the appropriate time.

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